What do you get when you cross a dragon and a pelican?
Chuang Zhao

Read our COVID-19 research and news.

What do you get when you cross a dragon and a pelican?

An ancient flying reptile may have had a feeding style akin to that of modern birds known as skimmers, which occasionally swoop along the water’s surface to snatch fish swimming there, a new study suggests. Fossils of the newly described pterosaur were unearthed from 120-million-year-old rocks at two sites in northeastern China. The front portion of the creature’s lower jaw had a deep, thin, crescent-shaped keel (artist’s representation above) that may have been covered with keratin, akin to the beaks of modern birds. At the end of that bony keel, researchers noted a peculiar hook-shaped projection—a feature not seen in any other pterosaur, or indeed in any other vertebrate, living or extinct—that might have served as an anchor for soft tissue. That distinctive bony projection suggests the pterosaur’s most distinct feature may have been a pelicanlike throat pouch that could hold fish gleaned from lakes and rivers, the researchers suggest today in Scientific Reports. In a nod to flying creatures of our modern age, the new species has been dubbed Ikrandraco avatar—draco is Latin for “dragon,” and Ikran are the pterosaurlike flying beasts depicted in the 2009 blockbuster Avatar. It’s difficult to estimate how much I. avatar weighed, the researchers say, but the fossils recovered so far hint that adults may have had a wingspan of about 1.5 meters.